Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a chronic neurodevelopmental disorder that often includes attention difficulty, impulsiveness, and hyperactivity. ADHD is a lifelong condition and causes problems like low self-esteem and difficulty with school or work.
There is no cure for ADHD, but there are ways to help manage it. Common options include medication and therapy, but some people are turning to diet to help manage their ADHD symptoms.
What is an ADHD Diet?
An ADHD diet incorporates foods meant to reduce symptoms of ADHD while avoiding foods that may worsen symptoms. The idea is that some foods can help manage ADHD, while others can exacerbate symptoms.
It’s important to note that there is no one-size-fits-all best diet for ADHD, and more research is needed to understand the relationship between diet and ADHD fully. An ADHD diet is not a substitute for medication or other treatments a healthcare professional recommends.
How Does an ADHD Diet Work?
Science still isn’t quite sure what the relationship is between ADHD and food and how diet helps ADHD, but there are some theories.
Some research suggests that a diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates causes spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels, which can lead to inattention and impulsivity. Some studies have also linked a diet high in artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives to increased hyperactivity in children with ADHD.
On the other hand, some research has suggested that certain dietary factors can help improve ADHD symptoms. Omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fatty fish and some supplements, have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties that may benefit brain health and reduce ADHD symptoms. Probiotics, beneficial bacteria that live in the gut, can improve gut health and reduce inflammation, potentially benefiting ADHD symptoms.
What Are the Health Benefits of an ADHD Diet?
The health benefits of an ADHD diet can vary from person to person. However, some potential benefits of following an ADHD diet include improved focus and concentration, reduced hyperactivity and impulsivity, improved mood, better sleep, and reduced inflammation.
- Improved focus and concentration: By avoiding foods that may cause spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels, such as those high in sugar and refined carbohydrates, an ADHD diet can help improve focus and concentration.
- Reduced hyperactivity and impulsivity: Some studies have linked a diet high in artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives to increased hyperactivity in children with ADHD.
- Improved mood: A balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats can provide essential nutrients that support brain function and may help improve mood.
- Better sleep: By avoiding foods that can disrupt sleep, such as caffeine and sugar, an ADHD diet can help improve sleep quality, which can in turn, improve ADHD symptoms.
- Reduced inflammation: Some dietary factors, such as omega-3 fatty acids and probiotics, have anti-inflammatory properties that have the potential to benefit brain health and reduce ADHD symptoms.
What Are the Health Risks of an ADHD Diet?
Since ADHD diets work to improve overall health and wellness, there are very few downsides. Many people, regardless of whether or not they have ADHD, have the potential to benefit from an ADHD-type diet.
However, there are some potential risks associated with certain dietary interventions for ADHD that should be considered.
- Nutritional deficiencies: Some people try to manage ADHD symptoms by eliminating entire food groups, such as gluten or dairy, without consulting a healthcare professional.
- Side effects and interactions: Some supplements or herbal remedies marketed for ADHD may have side effects or interact with other medications.
- Not a cure-all: While some dietary factors have been shown to have potential benefits for managing ADHD symptoms, there is still limited scientific evidence in this area.
How to Do an ADHD Diet
While there is no one-size-fits-all ADHD diet, common recommendations for how to do an ADHD diet include the following steps.
- A balanced diet includes many fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats.
- Eating complex carbohydrates over simple carbohydrates, as complex carbohydrates keep blood sugar stable and prevent spikes and crashes.
- Eating regularly throughout the day to maintain stable blood sugar levels.
- Eating protein-rich foods can prevent blood sugar spikes and help the body make neurotransmitters.
- Avoid foods high in sugar and artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives.
- Drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated.
- Including omega-3 fatty acids in the diet, which can be found in fatty fish like salmon, as well as in supplements.
- Considering the use of probiotics to improve gut health, which has been linked to improvements in ADHD symptoms in some studies.
An ADHD diet is not meant to help someone lose weight. Generally, a balanced ADHD diet should provide enough calories to meet the body’s energy needs while providing essential nutrients for optimal brain function.
Because results are mixed, there is no way to know how long it may take someone to feel the positive effects of an ADHD diet. However, if someone does find benefits from the ADHD diet, this may be a diet they want to continue for the rest of their lives.
What Are the Foods That You Can Eat While on ADHD Diet?
Most foods are safe to eat on an ADHD diet as long as they don’t have added sugar, artificial colors, and flavors, and don’t cause allergic reactions. However, some options are better than others. An ADHD diet food list often includes:
- Fruits: Fruits and vegetables are a great way to get complex carbohydrates into a diet. Fruits like apples, kiwis, grapefruit, oranges, pears, and tangerines are all excellent options.
- Vegetables: Like fruit, vegetables provide nutrient-rich complex carbohydrates for an ADHD diet.
- Grains: The grains eaten in an ADHD diet should be whole grains with complex carbohydrates, such as whole wheat bread, brown rice, quinoa, and oats.
- Legumes: Legumes are a good source of protein, fiber, and other important nutrients that support brain function and overall health. Legumes include foods like beans, peas, lentils, and chickpeas.
- Nuts: Nuts are a good source of healthy fats, protein, fiber, and other important nutrients supporting brain function and overall health. They can also help stabilize blood sugar levels. Some nuts, such as walnuts and almonds, are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to benefit brain function.
- Seeds: Like nuts, seeds are a good source of healthy fats, protein, fiber, and other important nutrients and can help stabilize blood sugar levels. Flaxseeds and chia seeds are also great sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
- Healthy fats: Healthy fats include monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, and omega-3 fatty acids.
- Proteins: Proteins are one of the most important parts of an ADHD diet. Healthy protein sources include lean meats, seafood, low-fat dairy products, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds, and soy products.
There are some vitamins and minerals that should be included in an ADHD diet as well. If these vitamins and minerals can’t be obtained from food, they should be taken as supplements.
- B vitamins
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- Rhodiola Rosea
What Are the Foods That You Should Avoid While on ADHD Diet?
Foods with high amounts of sugar, artificial colors, or preservatives should be avoided on an ADHD diet. This is especially true in an ADHD diet for kids.
People with ADHD are often advised to avoid excess sugar because it can contribute to hyperactivity and other ADHD symptoms. Foods and drinks high in sugar can rapidly spike blood sugar levels, followed by a quick crash.
This can lead to various symptoms similar to ADHD, such as restlessness, irritability, and difficulty focusing. A diet high in sugar can also contribute to inflammation in the body and disrupt the balance of neurotransmitters, exacerbating ADHD symptoms.
Some studies have suggested that artificial dyes and preservatives may contribute to neurological and behavioral problems, particularly in children. Artificial dyes are found in many processed and packaged foods, such as candy, soda, and snack foods.
Who Should Do an ADHD Diet
People with ADHD who want to manage their symptoms should try an ADHD diet. While an ADHD diet isn’t a substitute for proper medical care, it can improve brain function and overall health.
An ADHD diet for kids may be especially beneficial. Kids, especially those with hyperactivity, may have fewer symptoms with an ADHD diet.
How Easy is an ADHD Program to Follow?
The ease of an ADHD diet depends on many factors, including the difficulty of the meals and the preferences of the ADHD person.
For someone with ADHD, sticking to an ADHD diet can be challenging. People with ADHD often have low dopamine levels, the neurotransmitter responsible for regulating attention and feeling pleasure.
What is a Sample ADHD Diet Plan?
A week’s worth of meals on the ADHD diet may look something like the following.
- Day 1:
- Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with cheese and spinach and a side of fresh fruit
- Lunch: Tuna melt on whole wheat bread with a side of fruit and a side of veggies
- Dinner: Baked chicken with seasoned vegetables and potatoes with the skins
- Snacks: Granola and fresh fruit
- Day 2:
- Breakfast: Overnight oats with a side of fresh fruit
- Lunch: Leafy green salad topped with fresh, diced tomatoes, shredded cheese, and grilled chicken or salmon cut into strips
- Dinner: Beef chili with cheese and/or sour cream as preferred
- Snack: Hard-boiled eggs with cherry tomatoes
- Day 3:
- Breakfast: Protein smoothie with protein powder, fruit, plain greek yogurt, chia seeds, and ice
- Lunch: Cheeseburger with a whole wheat bun and side of veggies
- Dinner: Whole-wheat pasta with grilled chicken and sauteed spinach
- Snack: Pecans with cubed cheese and deli ham
- Day 4:
- Breakfast: Breakfast sandwich made with egg, ham, cheese, and a whole-wheat bun
- Lunch: Wrap made with a whole-wheat tortilla, grilled chicken, lettuce, cheese, and tomato
- Dinner: Grilled pork chops with brown rice and roasted veggies
- Snack: Cottage cheese with carrots and celery
- Day 5:
- Breakfast: Oatmeal with berries, chia seeds, and chopped nuts
- Lunch: Seasoned grilled chicken breast with a salad and side of fruit
- Dinner: Whole wheat pasta with spaghetti sauce and meatballs
- Snack: Trail mix that includes nuts, dried fruit, and dark chocolate
- Day 6:
- Breakfast: Omelet with cheese, spinach, and tomatoes
- Lunch: Cold cut sandwich with lettuce and tomatoes on whole-wheat bread
- Dinner: Chicken stir-fry with brown rice
- Snack: Cheese on whole-wheat crackers with apple slices
- Day 7:
- Breakfast: Greek yogurt with berries and chopped nuts mixed in
- Lunch: Chicken protein bowl
- Dinner: Baked salmon or fish with grilled vegetables
- Snack: Almonds, cheese, and fresh fruit
What Are the Best Recipes for an ADHD Diet?
The best recipes for an ADHD diet are easy and flexible. Below are some examples to try.
- Scrambled eggs: Scrambled eggs are a great option because they’re high-protein and things like cheese, Canadian bacon, and veggies can be added as preferred.
- Protein smoothie: Protein shakes are a way to get a lot of protein and are easily customized. Combine protein powder with ice and plain greek yogurt and add fruits and veggies as preferred.
- Wraps: Wraps can be made with lean meat, cheese, and veggies of choice, and wrapped in a whole-grain tortilla.
- Protein bowls: Like wraps, protein bowls are versatile and can be made with lean meat, cheese, and veggies.
- Grilled chicken and veggies: With this recipe, chicken can be seasoned to taste, and preferred veggies can be used.
What Are the Facts About an ADHD Diet?
Here are some facts about following an ADHD diet.
- Choose healthy options: This diet recommends high-protein foods, whole grains, and healthy fats.
- Avoid sugar and artificial ingredients: These can worsen ADHD symptoms.
- Avoid vitamin and mineral deficiencies: Supplements and multivitamins can help with this.
- It’s not for weight loss: The goal of this diet is to help manage ADHD symptoms, not to lose weight.
- Results may vary: Some people may see results after a few days, while others may not.
How Much Does an ADHD Program Cost?
The cost of an ADHD diet can vary depending on several factors, such as the types of foods chosen, the region where you live, and whether you choose to buy organic or non-organic foods.
Following a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins doesn’t have to be expensive.
What Are the Alternatives to an ADHD Diet?
Alternatives to an ADHD diet that can help manage symptoms include medication, behavioral therapy, exercise, mindfulness, and sleep hygiene.
- Medication: Stimulant medications are commonly used to manage symptoms of ADHD. Non-stimulant medications may also be prescribed.
- Behavioral therapy: Behavioral therapy can help individuals with ADHD develop coping strategies and improve their executive functioning skills.
- Exercise: Regular physical activity has been shown to help improve attention, mood, and cognitive function in people with ADHD.
- Mindfulness meditation: Mindfulness meditation and other relaxation techniques can help reduce stress and improve attention in people with ADHD.
- Sleep hygiene: Getting enough sleep and following good sleep hygiene practices can help improve symptoms of ADHD.
What Does an ADHD Diet PDF Involve?
Most ADHD diet PDFs will involve diet rules and may also include recipes. For example, 9 Foods to Eat (and Avoid) for Improved ADHD Symptoms is a PDF from the experts at ADDitude. Written by Dr. Daniel G. Amen and Tana Amen, R.N., this downloadable PDF offers tips and six ADHD-friendly recipes.
How to Find a 3D ADHD Diet Printable Plan?
Many PDFs are also printable. To print, click the printer icon near the top of the PDF window.
Is the ADHD Diet Just for Children?
No, the ADHD diet is not just for children. Many people, including those without ADHD, can benefit from a nutritious diet that avoids excess sugar and artificial ingredients.
Is ADHD Treatable with Diet?
No, ADHD is not completely treatable with diet. Research suggests that dietary changes may help manage symptoms of ADHD in some people, but dietary changes alone may not be sufficient to manage all symptoms of ADHD. ADHD is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder; treatment typically involves a combination of approaches.
Not all people with ADHD may benefit from dietary changes, and the effectiveness of any specific dietary intervention can vary from person to person. Consulting with a healthcare provider or registered dietitian can help determine whether dietary changes may be useful to an individual’s overall treatment plan for ADHD.